Monday, December 31, 2012

Sneaking Educational Activities into Birthday Parties

These were the plates that we used from

As always I try to squeeze in the educational lessons even at my kid's birthday parties.  Of course, it's important to have a mix of games.  Not all of them have to be educational.  This year's theme was unicorns and rainbows for my daughters.  So we had some classic party games like "Pin the Horn on the Unicorn" (instead of pin the tail on the donkey) and plastic multi-colored "Unicorn Shoes" (instead of horse shoes).  However, I try to have activities to keep the kids busy while we set up the next game or get the cake ready. 
For instance, a big floor puzzle that everyone can work together on is fun.  A craft area is always a must, too.  We had simple unicorn themed mazes, connect the dots pages and coloring pages for the younger kids and then more complex mazes and word searches for the older kids.  I use and to print out free pages for my kids to color year round.  Now-a-days there is no reason why we should pay ten bucks for a coloring book, if you have a computer and printer at home. 
As a science lesson, I taught the kids the colors of the rainbow and their order. I had the help of Sid the Science Kid (I love that show).  We sang "Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet, too." 

For my son's Sesame Street birthday party we played Match the Rubber Ducky Number with rubber duckies from Oriental Trading.
The kids made foam Ernie, Bert, Grover, Elmo, and Cookie Monster out of pre-cut foam shapes and glue dots.  Goldfish were served in a goldfish bowl.  Instead of goodie bags everyone got a ziploc bag filled with fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and a miniature foam cookie monster attached to the front.  Sesame street coloring pages were spread out in the craft room.  Ernie's "123 Count with Me" Sesame Street video was played while we got the cake ready. Just for fun we provided kick balls in primary colors. Whatever the occasion - sneak education into your kid's lives and have fun!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sneaking Education into a Night Out or a Night In

I love to sneak educational activities into everyday experiences wherever I can, including when I go out to dinner with my family.  For our latest trip to Friendly's, we kept my four and five year old happy, quiet, and entertained while waiting for their food by using a Highlights product found at Target.
I love Target! I am always there buying something.  A card, diapers, milk, school supplies, toys, board games, bedding, etc and then I get to reward myself for checking one more thing off my to-do list by buying a caffeinated beverage at Starbucks.  So the other day I was shopping at Target and was pleasantly surprised to find some neat educational products that I hadn't seen before in the aisles. I think their favorite was the flip notebook of Hidden Pictures that came with stickers by Highlights.

Another great product we found at Target was paint. My kids love to paint pictures. However, I think they have the most fun when they mix two colors together.
The primary colors are red, yellow and blue.
The secondary colors are green, orange and purple.
Mixing Equations
red + yellow = orange
yellow + blue = green
blue + red = purple
To further the fun, check out the science experiment at

Another great idea when eatting out with kids, is to use the seating arrangements of the restaurant as math word problems. This is a fun way to practice math skills. For instance, ask questions such as:
  • How many chairs do we have?
  • How many people can sit here?
  • How many people are seated in this row?
  • How many more can be added?
  • If there are three rows of booths with six booths each how many booths is that?
  • If each booth sits 4-6 people, then what is the maximum occupancy of customers?
For family fun, try some board games.  For kid games that 4year old to adults can play, try Super Why ABC Letter Game, Scrabble Junior, Rivers, Roads & Rails, and Pegs in the Park.
So sneak education into your kids lives today and have fun!

Monday, October 29, 2012

What to do with kids on days off

When people think of preparing for a major storm, they think of buying food, water and batteries.  However, as a mom, (and a life-long resident of CT), I also plan on ways to entertain my kids without power.  If I'm not prepared, I'll have to listen to hours of whining. 
I went to the library and got books that they haven't read yet.
I stock up a crate with construction paper, markers, crayons, paper lunch bags, glue and paste, kid scissors, paper plates, pipe cleaners, yarn, empty cereal boxes, etc.  I print out crafts to make with them so if the power goes out, we have something to create and then play with for hours on end.  So far we have printed out Dora's Mermaid Puppet Theatre and Puppets from  The theatre is 4 pages hat we glued together with a gluestick and then used Elmer's glue to stick to the back of a family-size empty Kix cereal box. The ocean floor is glued to a regular size Cascadian Farm cereal box.  Although the mermaids are made to standup we had a problem getting them to stand. So for some of the puppets, we glued them to cereal box cardboard and folded them but cut off one of the half circles on the bottom to help them stand better. For other puppets, we stuck craft sticks (or popsicle sticks) between the cardboard.

Paper bags are used to make puppets, and my girls retell a story that we read them while ducked down behind our coffee table. My favorite templates are from  Of course, it's fun to dress up and put on a play or have a dance party (if you have a radio with batteries or tunes on your phone) then drag out the dress up clothes or let your kids raid your closet.
Board games come out and puzzles are dusted off to create old-time family fun.  When things really get bad, like last year's storm when we were without power for 8 days, we move in with my parents.  It's like a camp out.  We huddle around the fire place in the family room and play outburst, which is a blast to play with a ton of people.  You shout out a topic and they have to guess the ten things listed, (ie. ways to cook potatoes-au gratin, baked, mashed, etc.). Get creative and have fun!  PLAY with YOUR KIDS! We get so busy that we forget to stop and have fun with our kids.  So make the best of the storm and PLAY!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Solving Sensory Sensitivities While Shopping

If you are a reader of my blog then you should know by now that I have a daughter with Asperger’s. One of the first tell-tale signs of her having Asperger's was the sensory sensitivities that she had while grocery shopping. For awhile, I gave up shopping all-together. I would use delivery services like to get my groceries. If I forgot anything I would ask my friend/neighbor (Ivana) to pick me up something when she went to the store. Eventually, I learned about sensory issues. Some kids have S.P.D. (sensory processing disorder) or S.I.D. (sensory integrative dysfunction). Not all kids with sensory issues have Asperger's. However, children with Asperger's have sensory issues.

Working with developmental specialists and occupational therapists, researching the topic, and joining the Sensory Smart Mom's support group helped me better understand the condition and better manage the issues.

To better understand sensory issues you can read the previous blog posts that are sensory related.

Thankfully, I have a daughter that can think back (after the meltdown) and tell me what was bothering her. To people with sensory issues, the hum of the freezers can be as loud and bothersome as a chainsaw is to the general public. The fluorescent bulbs and other lighting used to display food and signs are as bright as staring directly at the sun without sunglasses. To people with sensory issues, these everyday noises, illumination, etc. are accentuated. Unlike the average person that can tune-it-out. These sensory issues are severe and bothersome enough to interrupt daily activities.

Eventually, I learned to carry a little bag with sunglasses, a hat (with a visor), a sweater and noise reduction headphones. If they don't want to keep noise reduction headphones on, you can try to use headphones that play music. Let the child decide the volume. The music might help distract them until you’re out of the store. For some cool bag ideas checkout the post about backpacks. If your child is having a "sensitive day" don't torture them by bringing them to the store if you have another way of getting the item (ie. can your husband stop on his way home, can someone watch your child while you run in the store). If you have to go into the store, bring“the bag” and try to only get one or two things and get out of the store quickly. Now is not the time to stroll down every aisle (although you might need the break). If you need to get out of the house, go for a walk at a park or somewhere else outside where your child won't be overwhelmed. If you have any questions on any of these items or ideas please feel free to comment or leave me a message.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

October is National Book Month

October is National Book Month, which is sponsored by the National Book Foundation in an effort to celebrate how books can "open our minds." As an author, freelance writer, tutor and mother - I couldn't agree more that books help "open our minds." In fact, I have written a series of children's books to help educate children and adults on Asperger's Syndrome and language skills. The first book in the series has been picked by a few publishing companies and I have the pleasure of announcing that I have chosen one of them to sign a contract. "Grace Asperger Goes to School" will be printed in approximately the next 6-12 months. To help fund this project please feel free to donate (anonymously or using your name) by going to

Parents have asked me how to explain Asperger's to their children. My hope is that each book will help people better understand how people with Asperger's think very literally while teaching some English terms at the same time.

My idea for these books came to me when my oldest daughter (that has Asperger's), was told to "throw out her ice cream cone." We were at a restaurant and I was in a hurry to get going. She looked at me and then turned to stare at the garbage half-way across the room. She shrugged her shoulders, then "threw the ice cream" at the garbage. Due to the fact, that it was one of those garbage containers that you have to push open, the ice cream splattered all over the place. Many people stared at us horrified at the mess. My daughter looked at me innocently, and said, "What? You said to THROW it out." I burst out laughing and said, "Yes. Yes I did." Then, I proceeded to clean up the mess. However, the lesson was far from being over. I had many people talking about me. I'm not deaf, I heard the comments: How can she just laugh?; Why isn't she punishing her daughter?; If that was my kid... It made me realize that Asperger's is a hidden handicap. My daughter "looks" normal and therefore people assume she is being a "bad" kid when she does something out of the ordinary. My hope is to educate kids but adults, too. 

 Celebrate National Book Month by finding and reading a book that "opens your mind."

Monday, October 1, 2012

Selling Lesson Plans

Many teachers can relate to juggling bills.  I thought I'd share this great article on how teachers can sell their lesson plans for money.  I think this is a great way for people to earn extra cash.

Teacher article on AOL written by Claire Gordon

1st-Grade Teacher Deanna Jump Earns $1 Million Selling Lesson Plans

How to reward good teachers -- and punish the bad -- is one of the most fraught issues in education. But now talented teachers can earn a bonus without going through unions or principals or politicians. On, they can sell their lesson plans, worksheets and quizzes for a few dollars -- dollars that can add up, at least in one case, to over a million.

Deanna Jump, a first-grade teacher from central Georgia, is TeachersPayTeachers' first millionaire, reports CNN. Big money certainly wasn't the reason Jump got into teaching 17 years ago. "Like probably 90 percent of the teachers in America, I was juggling bills," she told CNN. "Like, 'OK, I can pay the electricity bill this week, and I've got seven more days before they turn off the water.' "

Then three years ago, Jump joined TeachersPayTeachers. Since then, she's posted 60 items, including the best-selling gingerbread-man-themed activity packet, and amassed almost 18,000 followers. Many of her resources are free to download, and most cost less than $10. But with over 160,000 sales, the mother of three and grandmother of two has found herself snugly in the "1 percent."

TeachersPayTeachers is one of several start-ups transforming the teaching profession, reports TechCrunch. New edtech platforms not only help teachers collaborate; they also allow teachers to reward their especially innovative or hard-working colleagues. Kindergarten teachers "don't have the kinds of textbooks and materials available for grade-level teachers," Jump told the teaching blog KQED last year, when her earnings were still in the six digits. "So I began creating my own."

TeachersPayTeachers has generated $14 million in extra teacher pay since Paul Edelman, a former New York City public school teacher, founded it in 2006 -- and it's growing exponentially, spreading the best resources by the best teachers across the country, to the benefit of students, as well as educators with an entrepreneurial streak. With her extra earnings, Jump funded a scholarship at the private school her teenager attends, reported KQED.

Many teachers are struggling on their current salaries (an average of $55,000 a year, according to Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers), taking on second jobs to pay the bills. According to a controversial report from the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, however, teachers are actually overpaid, because when they transition to the private sector, they usually take a pay cut.

But as Jump proves, teachers can win big in the free market. After all, 2.7 million Americans teach kindergarten through high school, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And that's a lot of potential customers.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Chicago Teacher Strike

Being a blog about education, I thought I would share this great article about the Chicago teachers going on strike.  For those of you, here in Connecticut, many of these same problems occur right here in our state.  I think that it is important to view both sides of the story.  Below is an article written by a Chicago teacher, Bobby-Renee Oommen.

For Friends Who Have Been Asking About Why CPS Teachers Are On Strike.

by Bobby-Renee Oommen on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 1:33am ·
Let me begin by stating what the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of my coworkers agree with:
  1. There should be a streamlined process to get rid of genuinely bad teachers.
  2. A longer school day is a GOOD thing (provided some of the issues below have been addressed)
  3. Salary issues have (for the most part) been dealt with.
  4. We are forfeiting our pay, standing outside, and protesting systemic INJUSTICE in Chicago public education- why must urban students be given LESS than their suburban counterparts???
Here are some of the issues (that I deal with on a DAILY basis) that need to be resolved:

1. We need class size reductions: Last year I had 35 8th grade students in a single classroom. This year, I have 33 students and we’re only 4 days into the school year. It is exceptionally difficult to effectively teach when there is such a large class size. In addition, last year I had 2 students who did not speak ANY English, and 4 students who had just come into the country- making the job of teaching that much more difficult. And finally, because I can control a classroom, I am consistently given the students with behavioral problems. Smaller class sizes are a better learning environment for students.

2. We need money for appropriate services for our students:
* My school of 1200 students has ONE school nurse who is only on-site 2 or 3 days per week.
* My school of 1200 students has TWO counselors.
* My school of 1200 students has TWO social workers.
* In general, schools need counselors, social workers, nurses, and other support personnel. 93% of students attending my school come from families living below the poverty line. 32% currently require language services. Simply stated, the support services for the wide range of care these students require are not available.

3. We need Professional Development: EVERY skilled profession allows for its professionals to be continually trained. In fact, the highest performing countries in the world extensively train their teachers throughout the year. CPS increased our school year by TAKING AWAY our days for professional development. We have 5 days of development for the ENTIRE SCHOOL YEAR….and those days have already been used. CPS required that all of those days be used the week before school started. Our teachers were not trained in anything related to our daily teaching practice. We were just informed about the new evaluation system.

4. Address the other REAL issues that must come along with school reform: POVERTY does not just affect one’s material resources, but vastly affects his/her spiritual, emotional, and mental health. If you are not consistently around people who are at/below the poverty line, you have no idea how this affects a person. My school has 93% of students receiving free lunch (a primary indicator of poverty). Parents/families need support systems. Kids need counseling services.

5. Re-evaluate the purpose of standardized testing: Standardized tests can provide some useful information, but should they be a determinant of teacher performance? How does one account for the innumerable variables? Also, creating a culture of over-testing students and heavily weighting standardized tests adversely affects curriculum development and the learning experience.

6. A more well thought out evaluation plan. CPS wants to evaluate teachers on three factors and eventually the following weight system:
a. 50% from Principal Evaluation- Principals received an ONLINE training to try to identify good teaching. That essentially still leaves their evaluations to a large amount of subjective opinion. Why not have the principal go into the class with a trainer from the city, score a teacher, and then identify and talk about discrepancies to account for subjectivity?

b. 40% from Scores on TWO tests:
Test #1: Growth on the MAP test.
Test #2: A performance test that is to be given in November and May. CPS told us last week that the homeroom teacher will grade one of the tests that they will use to then determine our pay. Does that make any sense?
As mentioned previously, there are too many variables that affect a student’s performance on standardized tests. Last year, 3 of my students had their parents incarcerated. Does that not affect a child? Most of my students come from single-parent homes. Does that not affect testing? I had a student last year who thought she was pregnant and a student who was pregnant the year prior to that. Surely, these factors affect test scores.

Let’s try to extend this to the corporate world: Imagine that 40% of your pay would be determined by the performance of your subordinates on a task given to them during ONE hour of ONE day. Forget the rest of the gains/knowledge/contributions you’ve seen them make in your daily interactions with them. Your pay comes down to their performance at one point in time. Oh, let’s also make it unbearably hot in the room they’re testing in. =)

c. 10% on STUDENT feedback- My pay will be determined by the opinions of my students…13 and 14 year olds. Need I say more?

7. Money to pay for more specialized teachers- Not a single teacher I know is against increasing the school day. However, we must be given money to hire specialized teachers. I grew up having gym and Spanish class EVERYDAY. My students get ONE special class PER DAY: Gym twice per week, and Spanish 3 times per week. The newly added time has come with NO funding or resources. I want my students to have a similar educational experience as a suburban student. In addition, the Mayor has said that the longer school day will provide foreign language and art instruction. This is the FIRST year that Spanish has been offered. They will not receive art instruction this year (Art has not been offered in over 3 years).

Mayor Emanuel says he just wants to get students to the starting line. Placing them in schools longer without anything to do with the extra time is not what teachers would say is placing them at the starting line. The students, teachers, and community need resources, specialized teachers, and an intelligent plan for the use of that newly allocated time. Without the funding and resources, the time can easily amount to nothing more than babysitting.

We understand that this is a real inconvenience for parents. We are parents ourselves. However, if these issues are properly addressed and resolved, it could make a difference for generations of students to come. At the very least, we're hoping it will get us started on the road to repairing an incredibly unjust, ineffective, and broken system.

Those are the issues I have. CPS teachers feel free to add. Others, let me know if you have any questions. =)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Cool Educational Products

Every year the school shopping items get more impressive.  This year is no exception.  From the jumbo erasers to the Lego pencil sharpeners - things are interesting. I was pleasantly shocked to see school items at Old Navy.  They had tin lunch boxes (priced around $5), which I thought was interesting. Very retro! The coolest item was a Lego pencil sharpener I found in the front of the store near the registers while I waited in line. 

Thought I'd share some great coupon codes for school supplies and other neat school ideas. 
Check out great savings on school supplies and use the coupon code below to save big on pencils, paints, etc.
10% Off Back-To-School Products

Use Code: B2SWDSS

Valid Now through September 14, 2012


The other store that was featuring some cool (I checked with tweens and teenagers) school items were Barnes and Noble.  They have these huge erasors with the words - "FOR BIG MISTAKES" on them or other jumbo erasors in the shape of owls, ice cream cones, and more that were approximately the same size as my smartphone.  They also had these neat packs of 5 small highlighters that are scented for only 3.95. The bookmarker pens are a neat idea to have bc you have a pen and a bookmark in one school supply.  The Barnes and Noble that I was at had bookmarker pens with butterflies, days of the week and in primary colors.

Officemax has some great promotions going on and always have a great selection of school supplies including binders and folders.  For Officemax deals check out the links below.

FREE Pencil Case & Snack Tote with $100 purchase.  Code: BTSDEAL
09/02/12 - 09/08/12

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Books About Starting School

I meant to get this posted a few weeks ago but life has been busy. Besides being a mother of three, managing a household and running a company, I am also a writer. So I apologize that I didn’t get this posted sooner but I wanted to make sure that I got my favorite children's books about starting school posted.

 My Favorite Children's Books about Starting School

1. Amanda's First Day of School written and illustrated by Joan Elizabeth Goodman

2. We Like Kindergarten by Clara Cassidy illustrated by Eloise Wilkin

3. Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready For Kindergarten by Joseph Slate illustrated by Ashley Wolff

4. The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak

5. First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg illustrated by Judith Dufour Love

6. First Day of School by Mercer Mayer


I'm pretty sure that every kindergarten classroom has the book "Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten" by Joseph Slate illustrated by Ashley Wolff. If you are unfamiliar with the book, it is an adorable tale about how the teacher sets up her classroom while the kids each prepare for their first day as well. The words rhyme and each letter is represented by an animal. (Adam the alligator, Brenda the beaver, etc.)


Two classics that my parents read to me when I went to Kindergarten (yes I still have them), both by Little Golden Books are: "Amanda's First Day of School" by Joan Elizabeth Goodman; and "We Like Kindergarten" by Clara Cassidy illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. These books are still fantastic today! My daughter was nervous about starting kindergarten tonight. After reading these two books she calmed down. Amanda in "Amanda's First Day of School" is scared when her mom goes to leave but she soon makes friends and learns that kindergarten is a lot of fun. Carol in "We Like Kindergarten" does many of the same things that my daughter knows she will be doing in her class (ie. hang up her coat, paint, read, etc.) and then goes home to be the "teacher" to her little sister, pets and teddy. This comforted my daughter because she saw that other kids are having the same emotions as her and it showed her that she will learn another role to pretend play at home with her little sister.  (Thanks Mom and Dad)


The Kissing Hand was given to my daughter by one of her aunts. (Thank you Auntie Christy!) To be honest, I had never heard of it until she gave it to my daughter, but it has become one of our household favorites. It is about a little raccoon that doesn't want to go to school. He wants to stay home with his mom. His mom kisses the inside of his left hand and tells him to hold it to his cheek to feel her love. A very sweet story. My daughter was begging to stay home with me, so I grabbed this book and she giggled when I read the words and said, "Look he says what I said."


First Day Jitters is an adorable story about how everyone is encouraging this person to start at a new school and that she'll make new friends. You finally see at the end that it is the teacher that is new and anxious about starting at a new school. A very cute lesson for kids to learn that they aren’t the only one’s nervous on a first day.


I have to say that I adore anything by Mercer Mayer. The wording is always right on and the pictures are entertaining yet not overwhelming.

Please feel free to comment on your favorite children's book about school.

On a side note, I just want to say – Good luck to all the kids starting school and to all the teachers that teach them.  May you all have a fantastic school year!  To all the parents that have to say Good Bye to their babies walking into kindergarten – Be proud and teach them to walk with their heads held high.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back to School

Back to School Shopping
Well, it's about that time again - back to school shopping has arrived. Parents everywhere are hit hard in the pockets. If you have the money, I highly recommend buying tons of school supplies now. You will not find better prices on pencils, pens, erasers, white out, glue, glue sticks, folders, lined (filler) paper, index cards, backpacks, colored pencils, and crayons then in August. So stock up!
Character and sport backpacks at Marshalls for only 12.99.
Everyone needs a backpack. It is always a given that every student will need a backpack. For parents that are new to the school shopping scene - be aware of durability and school restrictions.

Remember when shopping for a backpack that heavy text books will be pulled and dragged around in this contraption. It needs to be durable and have a good zipper. It is possible to find a cool backpack, that is well-made, that will last all year long. Shop around.
Most schools do not allow backpacks with wheels. You know the ones that roll like luggage. Although, it would be a nice break for your child's back to roll the books instead of lugging them around on their back, they are just too bulky and can't fit in most lockers.

Full size backpack on the Left compared to
 smaller 10-12 inch sized backpacks on the right.
Also, many schools require that your child has a full-size backpack, which is approximately 16-18 inches in height. This means that they don’t want a small toddler sized backpack. Why do teachers insist on huge backpacks for these tiny little backs? Artwork and paperwork. Younger students primarily need their backpacks for those huge art projects and paperwork to be sent home. So if the paperwork won't fit - then the backpack is useless. I recommend bringing a 1” binder (if you have a preschooler or kindergartner) or a 3” binder for older students to see if it will fit in the backpack that they choose.
Another, new trend that not all schools are going along with is the “messenger bags” or "trapezoid bags." Although the messenger bags can hold a good amount of books, their awkward shape makes it difficult for schools with small lockers to fit these rectangular or triangular shaped bags. So check with your child’s school. Don’t be shocked when you get a letter sent home – just call the main office now (they are open in August). A simple call to the main office can save you from trying to find a replacement backpack in the first week of school.  Don't know the phone number - just type in the town that your child's school is in or the name of the school (without commas or apostrophes) and you'll get a list of schools by using this directory for Connecticut schools

Three and Four Year Old Backpacks

  However, if you have a jealous 3 or 4 year old sibling you might want to consider letting them into the "back to school shopping" fun and get them a cute toddler-sized bag. Here are some toddler backpacks that I found at Marshalls, which are a perfect size to keep small toys to entertain the kids while waiting to eat at a restaurant.




Zoo Pack and Zoo Lunchies sold at Barnes and Noble Bookstores.
Preschooler and Kindergartners

For younger kids, there are some cute options like these animal inspired set I found at Barnes and Noble Bookstores called Zoo Packs by Skip Hop for $19.95. The Zoo Lunchies by Skip Hop are adorable animal, collapsible lunch boxes for an additional purchase of 14.95.To the right you can see the Monkey Backpack and the smaller monkey is the "Zoo Lunchies."

Just keep in mind that if you can't fit a folder in the backpack that you shouldn't buy it.

Old Navy has some cute animal inspired backpacks in-store for a more reasonable price, but I can’t speak from experience on the durability of Old Navy’s backpacks since I haven’t bought from them.

Princess backpack with lunch kit undone.
Princess backpack with lunch kit
 attatched to the front.
TJMaxx and Marshalls always have great deals on backpacks and in a variety of characters that elementary kids love. Always test the zippers and look at the brand that you are buying. If you zip it up and down a few times and can fit a folder -then it is a good start. I bought my preschoolers Disney backpacks with a collapsible lunch box that attaches to the backpack for only $12. So I got Disney Tinker bell backpack w/ an attached lunch box for only $12 for one daughter and the other daughter got a new Disney Princess backpack w/ attached lunch box for $12. So for $24.00 and tax they both have lunchboxes and backpacks. If you go directly to the Disney store, (which I love,) the backpacks are now on sale for $12 but you have to buy the lunch bag separately for an additional $8.00. However, you can have the backpacks personalized with the child's initials or name. I don't put my kid's first name on their backpack because I don't want to advertise their name to strangers, but initials are helpful to differentiate if another kid gets the same backpack in class. Also, Wal-Mart had a ton of backpacks at various prices starting at just $9.88 - $12.98 for character backpacks some of which came with the lunch box.


Avengers, Disney Cars and Spiderman Sets.
Justin Beiber, More Disney Princess &
Hello Kitty Sets at Marshalls.

After I chose the backpacks at Marshalls, I went poking around the kid section and I found stationary sets to coordinate with their backpacks. Each set only cost me $5.99 and came with two folders, 3 pencils, a three-hole pencil holder, a pencil sharpener, a 6" break proof ruler, an eraser, a small notebook and a large notebook and the princess one came with a calculator, too.

Minnie Mouse, Princess, and Tinker Bell stationary sets at
Marshalls and Pink Locker Set.
They even have some cool locker sets with white boards, markers and magnets. At my local Marshalls they had a variety of different stationary and locker sets. For girls they had Minnie Mouse, Disney Princess, Tinker Bell, Hello Kitty, Justin Beiber, Peace Symbols, etc. For boys they have the Disney Cars, The Avengers, and Spider Man. Check your local TJMaxx or Marshalls to see what characters they have on hand.

 From there, I went to OfficeMax and got a 6 pack of glue sticks for my kindergartner and Crayola crayons. I have to say, that if you want to pinch pennies - DON'T do it on the crayons. Have you ever tried coloring with the poorly made crayons that hand out at restaurants? They are awful. I highly recommend Crayola. Anything else breaks easily and doesn't color smoothly. Check your local flier for crayons sales. Walgreens, Wal-Mart and Target usually win in sale prices for Crayola every year. Be careful with the "buy one get one free" sales. I went to buy Mead, college ruled, 1-subject notebooks at only .47 cents from Rite Aid. While I was there, I compared Rite Aids "but one get one free" sale to prices at other top name sellers and found that the only thing that was cheaper was the 6 packs of Elmer glue sticks. Everything else was significant over priced when compared to Wal-Mart and Target. This week, Target and Wal-Mart are tied at .50 cents for a 24 pack of Crayola crayons. Also, be careful when you shop to not grab the wrong product.

Older Kids (Middle School and UP)
If you have a child going into school that is in 6th grade or higher, chances are good that they have a list of school supplies that they need to have on the first day of school. Be prepared and shop now. Bring the list with you to the store and make sure that you have plenty of time to poke around. Although, Wal-Mart had the lowest prices while I shopped this week - they also had the messiest stores, which made it nearly impossible to find anything. Target matched Wal-Mart on most of the prices while maintaining a neatly organized school section. So in my opinion, Target wins. Wal-Mart was so messy and disorganized that I almost bought the Washable Crayola Crayons for $1.97 instead of the regular Crayola Crayons for .50 cents. Sale prices are only a good deal if you can find the correct product that is on sale. Thankfully, I didn't have my three kids with me so I had an hour to walk around looking for crayons.

Backpacks for older kids need to be durable. In my opinion, L.L.Bean has the best backpacks for durability. They are even so convinced that you’ll be happy with their product that if you’re not “satisfied” they will refund your purchase and without a hassle. I bought my nephew a L.L. Bean Deluxe book pack for $39.95 and it just so happened that the style I got him didn’t have a stretchy side-pocket for his water bottle. He was unsatisfied, which made me unsatisfied. They kindly refunded me the current selling price of the backpack even though I had lost the receipt. He was happy to get to pick out his own backpack in all black with tons of pockets, and it lasted him all year. He chose the Super Deluxe Book Pack at $64.95. They have some great backpacks online like this cool skateboard themed one for only $16.99 or a nature one named Blue Wave Batik for $16.99. L.L. Bean has free shipping on all items. I like supporting an American business and frequently enjoy visiting Freeport, ME where L.L. Bean still originates.

However, I was shocked to find that Marshalls carried a variety of Jansport full-size backpacks that come with a Life-time Warrantee for a maximum selling price of $24.99.’s website states, “Guaranteed for Life
JanSport engineers quality, durable, and reliable products. So, if your pack ever breaks down, simply return it to our warranty center. We'll fix it or if we can't we'll replace it. We stand by our packs for a lifetime and since we've been making packs since 1967, that's a guarantee you can stand by.

 Not too shabby. My only concern would be how long it would take to ship it, wait for them to repair it and then wait for them to ship it back. However, it’s always nice to go with a company that stands-by their product so confidently.
Marshalls also had Marvel characters like Spider Man and sports team backpacks.

Free lunch kit comparison (from Toysrus and from Marshalls)
Toysrus always has a large selection at reasonable prices. They usually have a special promotion where you get to pick a free lunch box with the purchase of a backpack. I have done this before. The last backpack I bought from Toysrus lasted two school years and many sleepovers. In addition, the lunch box that my daughter picked was a good size and durable. Here is a picture of the Free lunch kit we got from Toysrus two years ago compared to the free one we got this year that came attached to the backpack at Marshalls.  As you can see the princess lunch kit on the left is much larger and even has a zippered section on the bottom where as the lunch kit on the right is smaller and only has one compartment.  Toysrus is still featuring the promotion that if you buy any backpack $12.99 or more that you get a FREE lunch kit up to $9.99.  Check it out here

Backpacks at Target.
Target had a bunch of character backpacks at 19.99 and other solid color, full-size backpacks ranged in price up to 34.99.

Target had a better selection for teen girls than most stores that I visited. Many stores seem to have many little girl backpacks but not that much for the older girls who have outgrown character backpacks.

Girl backpacks at Old Navy

Old Navy has a small selection but great prices on backpacks and lunch boxes. For girls they have polka dots, peace signs, and butterflies for only $7.00 per backpack and $4.00 per lunch box.
Boy backpacks and lunch kits at Old Navy

For boys, Old Navy has a sports theme, a camouflage design, skulls design and a skateboard designed backpack. Each is priced at $7.00 with matching lunch boxes for an additional $4.00.

Old Navy has a bunch of tin lunch boxes for sale, too.  They have Kermit and Disney Cars on sale for only $4.99. The other lunch boxes are priced below $8.00.  They had characters such as: Hello Kitty, Disney Princess, all the Marvel characters and much more. They are not selling them online but you can check with your local Old Navy to see what they are carrying.

Wherever you go shopping, I strongly recommend bringing a binder or folders to see if the backpack will be big enough to fit the supplies that are mandated by your school.

Happy Shopping!

Office Max is going to be featuring backapcks for 50% off starting on the August 26th and the Disney store has marked down their character backpacks to $9.99.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Changes to CT Mastery Testing

10:18 a.m. EDT, July 15, 2012
If all goes as planned, the Connecticut Mastery Test, bubbled in with pencil on paper, will become a relic of the past in two years, replaced by a new, more customized online testing system.
By the 2014-15 school year, state officials hope to retire the mastery test, which is taken by third- through eighth-graders, and its companion, the Connecticut Academic Performance Test, which is taken in 10th grade.
In its place will be computerized tests, essentially personalized for each student. As a student progresses through a test, the questions presented will vary depending on whether the student got previous questions right or wrong.
Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said that with the new tests — under development by the federally funded Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — if a student gets a question wrong, "the system will provide other questions to try to get at what the underlying deficiency is."

The interactive test "adjusts to students' skills and deficiencies as it operates," he said. The number of questions students are given during a test also will vary depending on how they perform.
Pryor said the adaptive properties of the test will provide teachers with a "deeper diagnosis of what the student is struggling with, which most standardized assessments absolutely fail at currently, because if you get the question wrong, it doesn't ask you any more questions."
The new tests also will use different types of questions, including audio and video components, and, proponents say, assess a student's knowledge in deeper ways than possible before. The testing system also offers a series of mini-tests teachers can use throughout the school year to quiz students on their understanding and progress.
Complex Tasks,Critical Thinking
One of the most striking changes in the new tests will be the "performance task" questions — in some cases multipart projects that require students to do some research, plot data points on a graph or use tools such as a ruler to construct an answer.
One sample performance task question asks students to read a short story and article, watch a video, review research statistics and then write an argumentative essay on their opinion of virtual schools.
Pryor said the purpose is to "ensure that we move beyond merely rote learning" and assess analytical and thinking skills.
"In the real world, the tasks that we are asked to perform in the workplace or in life do not involve bubble sheets," Pryor said. "They involve research, analysis and the use of items that we find in the real world."
Connecticut is one of 27 states working with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Curriculum to develop a test for English language arts and mathematics aligned to the Common Core State Standards — national curriculum standards adopted by 45 states, including Connecticut in 2010.
Two years ago, the federal government granted $350 million in federal Race to the Top funds to two multistate consortia — Smarter Balanced and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — to develop new testing systems rooted in the core standards.
In May, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the new tests will be "an absolute game changer in public education, but we need to get it right. We need input from teachers and the public, and we need to make sure that the tests provide parents and teachers with the information they need to focus and personalize instruction for all children."
Pryor said that the test, which will have a bank of more than 35,000 questions, is still very much in the development stages and that it's not clear whether a computerized version will be ready to go in 2014.
The Smarter Balanced consortium estimates that the new test will cost $19.81 per student. State officials said they could not provide a comparative cost figure for the mastery and academic performance tests, but said the tests cost $24.5 million last year, with about a quarter of that covered by the federal government.
Renee Savoie, an education consultant with the state Department of Education, said Connecticut's standardized tests are expensive because they contain many questions with open-ended, written answers along with the bubbled-in responses.
"My understanding is we're not going to be spending more on the Smarter Balanced test," Savoie said.
Teaching To The Test?
Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a Boston-based organization that is sharply critical of standardized tests, said, "We think for a lot of money, energy and hoopla, we'll end up with a marginally improved standardized test that won't solve the problems caused by the misuse and overreliance on standardized tests that we now see."
Neill said the new tests — including the mini-tests — are likely to lead to even more teaching that is based on test preparation, rather than curriculum.
But Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality in Washington, D.C., said the computerized test will be "a huge step forward," and the mini-tests will offer valuable information to students, teachers and parents before the end-of-the year "summative" test.
"The end of the year is not the time you want to find out that the student hadn't mastered things from many months ago," she said.
Jacobs, who taught fourth grade, also said the test's adaptability to a student's skills is helpful. "There's nothing worse than watching a student who doesn't know the first couple of questions and then they are so demoralized, they can't keep focused on it," she said.
Neill's colleague, Robert Schaeffer, public education director at the center for fair testing, said computers offer "tremendous potential to get beyond simple-minded bubble-in tests."
He said the consortium is promising that the new tests "are going to measure much more than regurgitation — that they will assess higher-level thinking skills, problem-solving." While that sounds impressive, he said, "the devil will be in the details." Too often, computerized tests are simply an online version of the typical "low-level multiple-choice test," he continued, because that's the cheapest way to do it.
An advantage of the computerized tests, Schaeffer said, is that the scores are often available more quickly. In Connecticut, students take the mastery tests in March, but the scores aren't released until July. This year's mastery test scores were recently delivered to cities and towns but have been under embargo until the state releases its report. Pryor wouldn't say exactly when that will happen, but he said it will be soon.
Several education professionals said they expect students will prefer the computerized tests.
"Students don't have any sort of phobia. It's what they've known, what they're comfortable with," Jacobs said. "We wouldn't be promising it would be just like a video game experience, but it's hard to think of anything less fun than sitting down with a bubble sheet and a test booklet."
For more information on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, including PowerPoint presentations with sample questions, go to

Article from The Hartford Courant
Special Thanks for permission to reprint from Kathleen Megan,0,5890056.story?page=1 by Kathleen Megan

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cognitive Skills, Adaptive Behavior, Receptive Language

What are cognitive skills, adaptive behavior, and receptive language? To be honest, they are skills and behaviors that most people take for granted.  However, a lack in these skills can be a signal or warning sign to a bigger problem, like a specific learning disability.  Really everyone should take a minute to learn what each means.  If you know of someone that has a delayed child, please be careful as to how you approach the subject with them.  It is extremely hard to hear that there could be something wrong or a delay in your child.  (Trust me, I know.)  You might just want to kindly suggest they read the blog or visit the Birth-to-3 Program website to get a free evaluation for their child.  I mean everyone likes FREE, right?

Cognitive skills are the more well known of the 3 areas that I will be writing about in this post. 

“Cognition is a group of mental processes that includes attention, memory, producing and understanding language, solving problems, and making decisions.”

Cognitive skills for toddlers include:

·         Ability to explore and interact with toys

·         Perceptual Development (to notice a difference in objects)

·         Memory (to retrieve information)

·         Problem solving (to understand features of objects and their relationships)

The difficulty with this is that testing for cognitive ability is based on one's ability to communicate. So if your child has delayed verbal speech then the current cognitive tests may fail to represent your child's cognitive ability.

Adaptive Behavior                                                                                       

Adaptive behavior refers to the independent skills that people need to execute everyday tasks.

For toddlers (ages 1 -3) and young children this includes:

·         Attention span (can they sit still on your lap)

·         Eating (do they eat well)

·         Sleeping (do they sleep through the night)

·         Dressing (do they help stick their arms through the shirt hole, etc.)

·         Safety (are they aware of dangers)

·         Toileting Skills (do they lie still to be changed; is potty training not going well)

For teens and adults this includes:

·         Communication and social skills (interacting and communicating with other people)

·         Independent living skills (shopping, budgeting, and cleaning)

·         Personal care skills (eating, dressing, and grooming)

·         Work skills (following directions, completing tasks, and getting to work on time)

·         Practical academics (reading, computation, and telling time)

Receptive Language/ Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD)/ Aphasia

Receptive Language is the ability to interpret and process spoken language.  It is also known as Auditory Processing Disorder, Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), Aphasia, or Comprehension Deficit.

For toddlers - teens this includes:

·         Looking at a person or object when you say the word

o   (ie. Where’s mommy? Where’s the baba? And looks at it.)

·         Difficulty understanding and following directions

·         Struggles with longer complex sentences

·         Has trouble understanding figurative and literal language

·         Often Avoids answering questions –

o    Says, “I don’t know” or “I forget”

o   Ignores the question all together

o   Shakes head yes or no

o   Repeats the last couple words of the question but doesn’t answer

For a more in depth explanation of receptive and expressive language I recommend reading this article:

Works Cited:

CT Birth to Three Program

Battelle Developmental Inventory -2